What's Cool In Road Cycling

Importance of Physiological Testing

– By Bruce Hendler –
To improve your fitness, testing is important, but it’s only the first step.

We all want to improve on the bike. We want to climb hills faster, posses more explosive power, and have cunning tactical sense. We want our training programs to show results and get some type of confirmation that all our hard work has paid off. Physiological testing establishes the benchmark to improve these aspects of your cycling, but it’s important to remember that it is only the beginning.

When you think about it, testing is just now becoming popular and readily available to all levels of riders. It used to be reserved for only the elite, but now, testing labs and coaches alike are performing some type of test on their athletes. So why is it so important?

First and foremost, testing gives you a benchmark or current “picture” of your fitness level in a controlled lab environment. In the lab there are no wind conditions, there is no heat or cold to deal with, and it is much easier to control the environment in order to produce results that can be consistently (that’s the important word) compared. Of course, the athlete may differ from test to test, as in lack of sleep, sickness, over-training etc, but again, being in a controlled environment takes away a lot of the other variables.

The old training formulas from the 70’s like determining your max heart rate as “220 bpm minus age” are just not accurate, as they don’t take into account the most important aspect of any training program – YOU! Everyone is different, everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and the most accurate way to determine what’s best for you is do testing.

What are the important benchmarks? There are literally hundreds of parameters that can be derived from a variety of tests, but we really don’t want to be bombarded with a bunch of numbers that confuse us more than help us. We want simple, easy to use data without feeling the need to be a “Doctor of Sports Physiology” to understand the results. The important tests:

– Training zones by heart rate, representing specific area of fitness to work on
– Power measured in watts at your anaerobic threshold (AT) – This is a key indicator of what a cyclist wants to improve.
– Power measured in watts at your maximum power
– Power per kilo of body weight measured both at your AT and maximum

Knowing these numbers and owning a heart rate monitor or some type of power-measuring device will give you the ability to set goals for improvement and monitor progress.

This is only the beginning of a successful training program. Most people leave the tests with these numbers, but don’t know how to apply them. That is where a good training program comes into play that takes into account your strengths, weaknesses, and goals. A good training program also discusses the mental approach of the sport where you determine what motivates you as well as good tactical sense. Having all the strength in the world, with out knowing how and when to apply it can be quite frustrating. Or more common to most athletes is not being the strongest rider and needing good tactical sense and a strong mental attitude to achieve your goals.

So in summary, getting testing done is an important first step to any successful training program, no matter what your goals are. Then taking the results, receiving good sound coaching advise based on the results and combining that with all the other “little” things, like nutrition, tactics and mental preparation will be the basis for realizing your goals in the great sport of cycling.

Bruce Handler created AthletiCamps to provide cycling specific coaching and training to athletes and cyclists of all levels. Find out more at www.athleticamps.com.

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